Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Warnings to Friends in Rome

 (57) Warnings to Friends in Rome

Romans 16:17-20


Scripture

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

 

Commentary

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

Now I beseech you,
One great object of this epistle had been to promote peace between the Jewish and Gentile converts. So much did this subject press upon the mind of the apostle, that he seems unwilling to leave it. He returns to it again and again; and even after the epistle is apparently concluded, he returns to it, to give them a new charge on the subject.

brethren,
The Greek word used here for brethren is adĕlphŏs. It has several meanings, but here I believe the apostle is referencing his brothers in Christ, living in Rome, since that is who this Epistle is written to.  They are also called Paul’s brethren and fellow believers, because they are united with him and to each other by the bond of affection, by their love for Christ, by their common persecution, and by their mutual faith. 

mark them which cause divisions
You will find those in every church who like to stir things up; they bring strife, distrust, envy, and evil intentions to church every Sunday—Paul says “mark them,” and then observe them attentively, cautiously, and faithfully (Philippians 3:17[1]), and be on your guard against them. Find out who are the real causes of the divisions that spring up, and avoid them.

Several translation speak sharply to those that like to stir the pot and create confusion; their message is “let them have no kiss of charity nor peace, because they strive to make divisions, and thus set the flock of Christ at variance among themselves; and from these divisions, offenses (scandals) are produced; and this is contrary to that doctrine of peace, unity, and brotherly love which you have learned. Look sharply after such people so that they do you no evil, and avoid them—do not tolerate them, and have no religious fellowship with them.”

Divisions—discord; parties; cliques; factions, (see 1 Corinthians 3:3[2], Galatians 5:20[3]). The very attempt to form such cliques was evil, no matter what the pretence. They who attempt to form cliques in the churches are commonly actuated by some evil or ambitious design.

and offences
Parties; or an offence (1 Timothy 6:3-5[4]) that gives opportunity for others to fall into sin. These two things are different. The first means division; the other denotes such a way of life that would lead others into sin. The Jew would form a faction (or splinter group) on the pretence of possessing superior holiness; the Gentiles, or some bold Gentile convert, might deride the disrespectful viewpoint of the Jew, and might as a result lead him into sin in regard to what his conscience finds objectionable. See Romans 14:15[5]. These persons on both sides were to be avoided, and they were to refuse to follow them, and to cultivate the spirit of unity and peace.

contrary to the doctrine
Contrary to the teaching which you have received in this epistle and elsewhere; for us, it is the teaching contained within the Holy Bible. Paul urges them to look out for those who cause them to contradict the teaching of the apostles. He takes it for granted, even at this early stage in the church’s history, that there is doctrinal and ethical norms, which the Romans must follow, not contradict; it is preserved for us in the New Testament.

which ye have learned; and avoid them.
Paul’s scolding and warning to his friends at Rome concerns those who might worm their way into the church to cause divisions among the brethren by forming parties around themselves and setting traps to destroy the faith of the unwary. He commands two things; mark them so they are known, and then avoid them. Those who cause divisions may have been antinomians that pushed their liberty in Christ to the “nth” degree. They may have been the ever-present Judaizers who seemed to relentlessly plague Paul. But Paul characterizes them as those which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned. This may mean any group which denied the teachings of the apostle. They should be on the lookout for any whose teaching is contrary to the sound doctrine which the Christians had learned, and should avoid them completely, as far as their instructions is concerned; but this does not mean that they were to be treated harshly. They were to disregard all that they could say which tended to produce alienation and strife; and resolve to cultivate the spirit of peace and union. This would be an admirable rule if always followed. Let men make peace their prime object; resolve to love all who are Christians, and it will be an infallible gauge by which to measure the arguments of those who seek to promote alienations and contentions.

Almost all the forms of error which distracted the early church were intimately connected with practical evils of a moral character. This was the case to a certain extent with the Judaizers; who not only disrupted the church by insisting on the observance of the Mosaic law, but also pushed some of their doctrines to an immoral extreme; see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5[6].

_____________________verse 17 notes_______________________

[1](Philippians 3:17) “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” Brethren, be followers together of me. Keep on becoming imitators together of me. Paul is asking them to mimic his good example. Paul lived Christ and Paul preached Christ. It was on this basis that Paul told the Philippians to imitate him (I Cor 11:1). And mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example. Observe attentively and follow them as a pattern or model. Paul says keep your eye on your guide.

[2](1 Corinthians 3:3) “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” The believers were still in a carnal or fleshly state of mind. This was evidenced by the fact that there was envy and strife among them. Such behavior is characteristic of the men of this world, but not of those who are led by the Spirit of God.
[3](Galatians 5:20, 21) “20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
[4](1 Timothy 6:3-5) “3If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” Here, Paul has turned his attention to those who might be disposed to teach new and strange doctrines in the church. These men do not consent to wholesome words. Wholesome here means health-giving words. Such were the words which were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ when He was here on earth and which are found in the Gospels. Such men are proud. They profess to have superior knowledge, but actually they know nothing. As Paul mentioned previously, they do not know what they are talking about. They dote about disputes and arguments over words.
Since the things they talk about are not matters of Bible doctrine, there is no way of settling them decisively. As a result, their teaching stirs up envy, strife, reviling, and evil suspicions.
[5](Romans 15:14) “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” When I sit down to eat with a weak brother, should I insist on my legitimate right to eat Crab Louis or Lobster Thermidor, even if I know he thinks it is wrong? If I do, I am not acting in love, because love thinks of others, not of self. Love foregoes its legitimate rights in order to promote the welfare of a brother. A dish of food isn’t as important as the spiritual well-being of one for whom Christ died. And yet if I selfishly parade my rights in these matters, I can do irreparable damage in the life of a weak brother. It isn’t worth it when you remember that his soul was redeemed at such a towering cost—the precious blood of the Lamb.

[6](1 Corinthians 5:1-5) 1It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Apparently it had become widely reported that one of the men in the fellowship at Corinth had committed sexual immorality. The Corinthian Christians reacted to this by being proud and haughty, instead of plunging into deep mourning. Perhaps they were proud of their tolerance in not disciplining the offender. Or perhaps they were so proud of the abundance of spiritual gifts in the church that they did not give serious thought to what had taken place. Or perhaps they were more interested in numbers than in holiness. They were not sufficiently shocked by sin. The action Paul recommended was to take such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Commentators disagree on the meaning of this expression. Some feel that it describes the act of excommunication from the local church. However,we should remember that the discipline of believers is always calculated to bring about their restoration to fellowship with the Lord. Excommunication is never an end in itself, but always a means toward an end. The ultimate purpose is that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly;
Paul continues his description of these disruptive teachers; He describes them, not as servants of the Lord, but in service to their own carnal desires and self-interests. They neither do his will, nor preach his doctrine; they serve their own belly—they have intruded themselves into the Church of Christ so that they might get secular support for their business or gain social status; it is for worldly gain alone that they take up the profession of the ministry: they have no Divine credentials; they do not convert the heathen or the ungodly, for they have no Divine passion. Though they profess to be, yet they are not Paul’s real friends and followers.

These false teachers are not obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ. They obey their own appetites. And they are all too successful in hoodwinking the unsuspecting by their appealing and flattering speech. This is characterized by the symbol of their belly. In Philippians 3:19[7]  the apostle warns the Philippian Christians against people “whose God is their belly.”

but their own belly—this is a graphic metaphor of self indulgence; ‘their god is their stomach.’ The expression is used in the sense of serving oneself; of being the willing slave of ones own egotism. These false teachers have no love for Christ, and no wish to be His willing slaves. Instead, they are utterly self-centered, and also have a destructive effect on the gullible. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.

and by good words and fair speeches
The target of these false teachers is the unwary, and the unsuspecting. (See Proverbs 14:15[8]).

And by good words and fair speeches (for they have no miraculous nor saving powers), they deceive the hearts of the simple. These smooth-talking teachers have ensnared innocent (simple) believers in their doctrinal trap. They hope that by perverting Christian converts, that they may get their property, and thus secure their things of value for themselves.

deceive the hearts of the simple.
They deceive the minds of the unsuspecting, or those who are without cunning. The apostle means to warn those who are simple-hearted, without any disposition to deceive others themselves, and of course without any suspicions of the plans of others. The deceiver has by craftiness surrounded himself with supporters and followers. First, there are smooth, plausible pretences, like great love for truth. Then, an artful mingling of courtesy and flatteries; and all this practiced on the minds of the unsuspecting, drawing their hearts and affections towards themselves. Happy would it have been if this art had been confined to his times.

The Church of God has always been troubled with such pretended pastors—men who FEED themselves, not the flock; men who are too proud to beg, and too lazy to work; who have neither grace nor gifts to plant the standard of the cross on the devil's territories, and by the power of Christ make inroads upon his kingdom, and rob him of his subjects. On the contrary, by sowing the seeds of dissension, by means of disagreements, and the propagation of scandals; by glaring and insinuating speeches, for they fake elegance and good breeding, they rend Christian congregations, form a party for themselves, and thus live on the spoils of the Church of God.

____________________verse 18 notes___________________________

[7](Philippians 3:19) “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” These men were destined to eternal perdition. This does not mean annihilation, but the judgment of God in the lake of fire forever.
Their god was their belly. All their activities, even their professed religious service, were directed toward the purchase of food (and perhaps drink) for the gratification of their bodily appetite. F. B. Meyer described these men with keen insight: “There is no chapel in their life. It is all kitchen.”
Their glory was in their shame. They boasted in the very things they should have been ashamed of—their nakedness and their immoral behavior.
They were occupied with earthly things. For them, the important things in life were food, clothing, honor, comfort, and pleasure. Eternal issues and heavenly things did not disturb their groveling in the muck of this world. They carried on as if they were going to live on earth forever.
[8](Proverbs 14:15) “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” A naive, gullible person is susceptible to every new idea or fad. The prudent man takes a second look and thus preserves his steps from error. Faith demands the surest evidence, and finds it in the Word of God. Credulity believes what every passing scientist, philosopher, or psychologist has to say.

 

19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

For your obedience is come abroad unto all men.
 This clause has two possible interpretations: the word obedience may express either their obedience to the gospel, their faith (see Romans 1:8[9]); or their obedient disposition, their readiness to follow the instructions of their religious teachers. If the former meaning is adopted, the sense of the passage is this, ‘Ye ought to be on your guard against these false teachers, for since your character is so high, your faith being everywhere spoken of; it would be a great disgrace and evil to be led astray by them.’ If the latter meaning is the right one, the sense is, ‘It is the more necessary that you should be on your guard against these false teachers, because your ready obedience to your divine teachers is so great and generally known. This, in itself, is commendable, but I would that you joined prudence with your docility.’ This latter view is, on account of the concluding part of the verse, most probably the correct one; see 2 Corinthians 10:6[10]; Philemon 1:21[11].

Paul was glad that his readers’ obedience to the Lord was well-known. But still he wanted them to be able to discern and obey good teaching and to be unresponsive to evil. The apostle gives this as a reason why they should continue to hear and heed those who had led them into the path of truth, and avoid those false teachers whose doctrines tended to the subversion of their souls.

I am glad therefore on your behalf:
I rejoice that you demonstrate such an obedient disposition. But he immediately adds that this was just the temperament that was most likely to be imposed upon, and then he cautions them against that danger.

but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
In Matthew 10:16 we are counseled to “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” The Greek adjectives, sophos and akeraios, are used both in Matthew and here. Paul cautions the Roman Christians to be alert and discerning in relation to false doctrine (I Corinthians 14:20[12]).

Yet I would have you wise—I would wish you carefully to discern the good from the evil, and to show your wisdom, by carefully avoiding the one and cleaving to the other.

wise unto that which is good—“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In this section Jesus counsels the twelve concerning their behavior in the face of persecution. They should be like sheep in the midst of wolves, surrounded by vicious men bent on destroying them. They should be wise as serpents, avoiding giving needless offense or being tricked into compromising situations. And they should be harmless as doves, protected by the armor of a righteous character and sincere faith.

____________________verse 19 notes_________________________

[9](Romans 1:8) “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Whenever possible, the apostle began his letters by expressing appreciation for whatever was commendable in his readers. (A good example for all of us!) Here he thanks God through Jesus Christ, the Mediator, that the faith of the Roman Christians was proclaimed throughout the whole world. Their testimony as Christians was talked about throughout the Roman Empire, which then constituted the whole world from the perspective of those living in the Mediterranean area.
[10](2 Corinthians 10:6) “And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” As a soldier of Christ, the apostle was also ready to punish all disobedience, but he was not going to act against the false teachers at Corinth until he was, first, sure of the obedience of the believers in all things.
[11](Philemon 1:21) “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” The apostle had every confidence that Philemon would do even more than was requested. He himself had been freely forgiven by Christ. He would not do less, surely, for Onesimus. We have then a vivid illustration of Ephesians 4:32:
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”
[12](1 Corinthians 14:20) “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” Paul exhorts the Corinthians against immaturity in their thinking. Children prefer amusement to usefulness, flashy things to stable ones. Paul is saying, “Don’t take a childish delight in these spectacular gifts which you use to call attention to yourself. There is one sense in which you should be childlike, and that is in the matter of malice or evil. But in other matters, you should think with the maturity of men.”

 

20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
The evils produced by the false teachers were divisions and scandals. The apostle, in giving them the assurance of the powerful aid of God, calls Him the God of peace, i.e. God who is the author of peace in the comprehensive scriptural sense of that term. The apostle encourages the Romans to persevere in resisting the wiles of the devil with the assurance that, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, they are "shortly" to receive their discharge, and have the satisfaction of "putting their feet upon the neck" of that formidable enemy— a symbol familiar, probably, in all languages to express not only the completeness of the defeat, but the utter humiliation of the conquered foe. (See Jos 10:24 2Sa 22:41 Eze 21:29 Ps 91:13).

Paul has written about good and evil, and now he wants the Roman Christians to know that there is no doubt about the outcome, the triumph of good over evil. He detects the strategy of Satan behind the activity of the false teachers, and he is confident that the devil is going to be overthrown. Notice that it is God who will throw Satan under your feet, so that you may trample upon him. He has already been decisively defeated at Calvary; but he has not yet conceded his defeat.

Probably there is an allusion to Genesis 3:15[13], where God promised that the seed of the woman (namely the Christ) would crush the serpent’s head. But that’s not all; there is a further reference to man, male and female, whom God created and to whom He gave dominion. The psalmist put it this way, “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:” (Psalm 8:6). As God’s representative on earth, man was given dominion over all kinds of animals, birds, fish, and reptiles. There was nothing that was not put under him.

But the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that we do not see man enjoying this undisputed influence at the present time (Hebrews 2:5–9[14]). Dogs bark at man, snakes bite him, birds and fish elude him. The explanation is that when sin entered the world through Adam, man lost his unqualified sovereignty over the lower creation.

Yet God’s purpose still stands. He has decreed that man shall indeed have dominion, and nothing can block God’s purposes. So while we do not see all things subject to man right now, we do see Jesus—the one Person by whom man’s dominion will eventually be restored. When Christ came to earth, He became temporarily lower than the angels so that as Man He could die for the human race. Now He is crowned with glory and honor at God’s right hand. Someday Christ, the Son of Man, will return to earth to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. In the Millennium, the dominion that was forfeited by the first Adam will be restored by the Last Adam. That this will happen “soon” is not necessarily a time reference, but rather a statement that God has planned nothing to occupy the space between the ascension and the Second Coming. The Second Coming is the very next great event in human history. Meanwhile the Romans should expect regular interim victories over Satan; partial crushing of him under their feet—we also have this power from the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The prophet Isaiah used the taming of the serpent to describe the peace that will prevail in the messianic kingdom (Isaiah 65:25[15]). And Jesus gave His disciples “authority to trample on serpents and scorpions” (Luke 10:19[16]).

Several critics suppose that the word Satan is a sort of collective term here, by which all opposers and adversaries are meant; and especially those false teachers to whom he refers above.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
The grace of our Lord—“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” is a prayer for the favor and aid of Christ, and of course it is an act of worship, and recognition of the Savior’s divinity. The apostle’s characteristic benediction wishes all needed enablement for the saints as they journey toward glory.
Here the apostle appears to have intended to conclude his epistle; but afterwards he added a postscript, if not two, as we shall see in the following sections.
The "Amen" here has no manuscript authority. What comes after this, where one would have expected the epistle to end, has its parallel in Philippians 4:20, which says, “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” This type of ending is in fact common in Paulene writings, and is simply a mark of genuineness.

___________________________verse 20 notes_________________________________

[13](Genesis 3:15) “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
[14](Hebrews 2:5–9) “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. 6But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? 7Thou madest him a little lowerc than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” 
[15](Isaiah 65.25) “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.” There will be no more hindrances to prayer. Wild animals will be domesticated, and poisonous snakes will feed on the dust of defeat and humiliation. There will be no more danger in God’s holy mountain of Zion.
[16](Luke 10:19) “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” The Lord had given His disciples authority against the forces of evil. They were granted immunity from harm during their mission. It is true of all God’s servants; they are protected.

 

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